Formula 1 drivers set the intensity of competition aside on Thursday evening in Abu Dhabi as the entire 20-strong field gathered for a farewell dinner in honour of retiring four-times champion Sebastian Vettel.
The meal, images of which swiftly appeared across their social media accounts, was the first time F1’s drivers had got together in this way since the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix. It came about at the instigation of Vettel’s former championship rival Lewis Hamilton.
“I thought it was really important, so that’s why I asked in Mexico whether they would be open to all doing a dinner to give Seb a farewell,” he explained to media including RaceFans. “We haven’t had a dinner [together] since years ago in China.”
Vettel took the floor at one point to give a speech. “It was the best evening,” said Hamilton. “We were all laughing so much, great stories, Seb is a great leader as well. He made a great speech, just trying to hand down some of his experiences that he’s had over these years particularly to the younger guys for their the future.”
While images of the F1 racing class of 2022 seated at a dinner table were inevitably scrutinised by fans for any signs of loyalties or hostilities, Alexander Albon insisted no-one had set out to avoid sitting next to a particular rival. “Whoever arrives just sits,” he said, “there’s no kind of musical chairs going on.”
He turned up at the same time as Williams team mate Nicholas Latifi who, like Vettel, is making his final grand prix start this weekend. “Nicky and I were first to arrive,” he said. “We were five minutes late and we were the first by 20 minutes, so we got to sit next to each other.”
“Everyone seems to be good friends,” Albon reckons. “There’s not really any big rivalries, apart from a couple.
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“But generally speaking, we all get along really well. I think we see each other more than ever now, just with the amount of races that we’re doing, all the travelling we’re doing, where we tend to be either sharing planes or whatever.
“So we get to spend a lot of time with each other. We see each other more than our own families, as I’m sure you [media] guys see each other more the yours. So there’s a good spirit with the whole grid.”
Two years of Covid restrictions made such a social event impossible until recently. Many drivers on the grid had never…